Monday, February 28, 2011
I am at my wit's end, which I suppose literally means that I no longer have any witty remarks to make about the ferocious sibling rivalry between my sons. It is getting arduous - physically arduous for my younger son, and mentally arduous for my husband and I as we try to mediate and protect.
I'll be completely honest here and say that I really do not understand what is going on with our eldest kid right now. Maybe an enlightened reader with siblings - or a parent with multiple kids older than ours - will come across this post someday and share their views, which I would welcome. I was the youngest of five much older siblings and spent most of my childhood as an only child. I do not understand sibling rivalry first hand, and I was completely blindsided by its force nearly four years ago when our second boy entered the world.
My husband and I have done everything we've ever heard of to try to mitigate the feelings of displacement that our eldest might have after gaining a baby brother. His little brother came into our lives bearing gifts: literally. Before his birth we made the suggested run to Target to purchase a very cool toy (in this case, an awesome musical guitar that played the Michael Jackson hit "1-2-3" and other fun sounds) which our newborn baby "gave" to his big brother at the moment they first met. Big brother loved the guitar and appeared not to mind the baby, for a while.
We had been advised about the importance of sticking with routine and making sure to pay maximal attention to the oldest child during the transition period. "Your second child will never know the difference, having always had a sibling to share with and never knowing it any other way. The oldest child will feel every change and every moment of sharing his/her parents' attention acutely," we'd read, so we paid special attention to our eldest after the new kid hit the block.
We are equal in all things with them. We give them individual attention, take them on private "dates" with mommy and daddy. We buy them the same toys, matching shirts, etc. all in the hope of making sure they don't feel that we prize one above the other. We make a big deal about each of their individual successes, but always sure to simultaneously express great pride in the accomplishments of the other child as well.
I think it was when we'd moved to our condo three years ago, and the baby brother was just starting to crawl, that things began to go haywire. As soon as he could actually get into his big brother's toys - rather than just gazing at them from afar, the crud really hit the fan.
Suddenly my husband and I had a violent dynamo on our hands... biting, hitting, kicking, even trying to choke the baby. It got so bad we had not one but two conferences with his preschool teacher to ask for advice and to make sure that he wasn't demonstrating these behaviors at school. Nope, as it turned out - not at all. In fact, she was shocked. "I adore him," she said. "We have a special bond. He is an angel. I have never seen him be mean even once. If anything, he is very shy at school."
Despite her assurances, the misery at home persisted. It got to the point where the only thing that actually mitigated his behavior was the quiet promise from us (his parents) that if he didn't shape up and treat his brother better, we would tell his teacher how terribly he was acting at home. "No!!!!!!!" he would scream. "Not Miss Lauren!!!!!"* As it turned out, he felt the same way about his grandmother, their good opinion held a lot of influence with him. Somehow he wanted both of them to think that he was incapable of meanness, which also perplexed me. Why were we, his parents, allowed to see the 'worst' but he could control the behavior in all other venues?
Three years later, it has never really let up.
I know it goes without saying that we love both of our sons, differently but with equal strength. They are very different children with very different personalities, so it would be impossible to hold carbon copy feelings for them. Losing either one would destroy us, without any question. Which is perhaps why it tortures me to witness the violence and meanness the elder brother consistently showers upon the little one, even now.
When he thinks I am not looking, he puts his hands around his brother's neck and tries to choke him. He grabs hunks of his hair and pulls it hard. He makes mean scary faces right in his little brother's face and growls. He punches him in the back and stomach. He knocks him off his bike. He steals his favorite toys and hides them. He backs him into corners menacingly.
I realize that they are ages 5.5 and 3.5, and that maybe some of this is normal? I keep hoping that he is going to grow out of this phase.
That said, I consistently dread 3:15pm because it is the time when I must pick up my eldest from school and watch as our day disintegrates into a house full of screaming, shrieking, consequences and time-out. The hours between 3:15 and 8:15 are like a drain on my personal energy pool, sucking me so dry that by the time I get my kids to bed I am ready to sit in perfect silence doing nothing but staring into space for an hour, just to regroup.
Tonight my husband sweetly took our kiddos down to visit their grandfather and get hamburgers for dinner, a fun treat. You would think they would return in good spirits, no? Yet from the moment they entered the house my eldest was angry at his brother, knocking him off of the stepstool when it was time to brush teeth and pulling his hair hard in the kitchen when I was pouring bedtime drinks.
My husband said it had been like this all night, and that he had already taken away the privilege of dessert. When reminded of this, our son stormed off into his room screaming and yelling at us "What??!?!!! You poo poos! You little meanies!" and he came back holding a toy fighter airplane that he proceeded to 'shoot' at us.
My husband sent him to time out for cursing at his parents and he dissolved into a high pitched tired against us, then returned and began throwing things at me. This time my husband brought him back to his room and told him it was time for bed.
As I tucked our smaller boy in to bed a few minutes later, we had a heartbreaking conversation.
"Mommy, why is my brother so mean to me?"
"Honey, I'm so sorry that he treats you badly. You are both very special to us and it hurts me to see you fighting."
"I forgive him. I love him, mommy. But..." and he looked at me with brimming eyes, "...my brother does not love me."
"Oh honey, yes he does. I think your brother loves you a lot. He is just sensitive and sometimes can get emotional."
"No mommy," he shook his head. "My brother does NOT love me. He loves my sister, but not me."
What does one say to this? Deep down I really believe that my eldest son loves his little brother, but he sure doesn't show it. Do I tell the little one to keep putting up with physical and mental abuse heaped on him daily because the two of them are family? How do I help my smaller child avoid internalizing the role of victim (any more than he has already done) and also keep my eldest from becoming a terrible bully?
I have asked my friends with boys whether they have these problems, and the painful truth is that I do not have a single friend who has confessed experiencing situations of this magnitude. Granted, we have very few friends with multiple boys. But I think I have at least four close girlfriends who have more than one son and I have never seen a single one of their boys inflicting harm upon his brother. I do not know a single mother whose children have drawn blood from each other while hitting each other in the head, and it has already happened in our family twice.
Before we had our youngest child - a daughter, I wondered so often if it was something in the way I was parenting that caused this intra-familial strife. Yet she has proven to be angelically adorable and our eldest cherished and protected her from the first moment. He treats her like a queen. "We are like peas and carrots," he says. "We stick together." Apparently she does not pose the same challenge to his crown as reigning son; instead, she has become his delighted and adoring minion.
I don't know how to end this post, because it truly seems that there is no end in sight. Even my genial husband, usually unflappable in the face of child angst, has grown weary and frustrated with the constant aggression. "He was at it all afternoon," he sighed tonight, "It needs to stop".
I am left then, feeling like we are parenting in a small boat hurtling through rocky uncharted waters. As I do every night, I am praying for divine guidance or enlightenment... we need a life preserver, or an extra oar. I am praying that tomorrow will be a better day for my sons (and thus, for all of us).
*Name of the party in question changed to protect their privacy.
Sunday, February 27, 2011
My husband needed to work late this evening so I hatched a plan to keep our children so busy on 'an adventure' with mommy, they wouldn't have time to miss him too much. As soon as I'd picked both boys up from their respective schools I let them know that we were going to head north to buy new school shoes they've been hoping for, followed by a delicious Chinese food dinner. "Yay! Another date!" my eldest exclaimed.
Along the way I needed to deposit a check at the bank and as we headed in that direction the same (five year old) son murmured, "Maybe now I'll be able to stop thinking about my bad dream."
"You had a bad dream honey?" I asked, "When did you have it?"
"I can't stop thinking about it. I keep thinking about it all day, even though I am trying not to."
"What was your dream about?" his little brother interjected.
"I dreamt that someone was putting a needle into my chest," he said. "They were sticking a needle into my chest right here ~" and he pointed to his breastbone.
This is the first time my son has ever recounted a nightmare for me, even though he has at times told me about dreams he's had where he plays with different kinds of animals. I don't know why I was so surprised to learn that my son is dreaming vividly - even having nightmares - because he is nearly six years old. I don't know when dreaming starts with humans but heck, it could be in utero. (I'll have to look that up.)
Thinking of my kindergartner experiencing such an intense, kind of weird and violent dream, was a little upsetting to me. I didn't want to show him that though, because it is important to me that he feels comfortable sharing anything in the world with his parents and I wanted him to feel safe and assured. Very calmly then, I asked him to explain his dream in greater detail to us.
"Where were you, honey? In the dream? Who was putting the needle in your chest?"
"I was at the doctor's office. The doctor was putting a needle into me right here (again he gestured toward the breastbone). You know, mom, where the milk comes out."
My son's dream was apparently more complicated than I had even guessed, and yet it was also starting to sound like a real dream - where random things happen that would make no sense in real life.
"Yeah, you know - where ladies feed their babies. The needle was stuck in the place where ladies feed their babies from."
"Oh, you mean your pectorals - your chest muscle area. Is that right?"
"Yes. Except of course no milk was coming out of me because I am a boy."
"Oh, sure. So, why was the doctor putting a needle in your chest?"
"You know, mom, like when they take your blood. Or you get a shot."
"Ok, so which was it? Were they taking your blood, or were you getting a shot?"
He paused for long enough that it became obvious that he was inventing this new part of the dream within the context of our conversation. I think he was trying to decide if it had been a friendly or a scary dream, and he really wanted it to be friendly.
"Um, I think he was giving me a shot. So I wouldn't get sick."
"Oh, so the doctor was protecting you then. Well, that's nice honey. Sounds like it wasn't a bad dream after all."
"I just wish I could stop thinking about it. I dreamed about it last night and I keep seeing the needle."
"Even now, during the day?"
"Well, I dream during the day A LOT mommy. Except usually they are good dreams. This one was just bad."
"I dream sometimes too," said his little brother. "I don't dream about needles though. I have never had that dream."
At this point, we reached the bank and our conversation about dreaming reached a natural conclusion. By the time we were back on the road to go on our adventure, we'd shifted gears completely and were talking about Dr. Seuss.
I'd be lying though if I said that his dream hasn't been on my mind. I guess hearing that my child is having dreams where people are poking him with needles raises some anxiety in me and also an awareness that my children are growing up, and that there are many things they think about and that they will be exposed to in their lives that I have no control over.
My son has unique fears unlike anything I have ever experienced. He also has a very different temperament than my own, with certain distinct similarities but overall, we are different people. This is natural and normal, and I adore every ounce of him just the exact way he is. Still, I don't always know what to say to him! I don't always know how to respond to the things he is experiencing or even (now) dreaming about.
This is the part of parenting that's called 'winging it', I guess. Or, 'fake it 'til you make it'.
I remember being a kid and believing that my mother was some supernatural creature who had the solution to every problem. She could heal me if I was sick. She could help me with any school project. She could guide me through any emotional bump with friends or boyfriends. She was my wonder woman.
Then there came the day in my teens when my mom no longer had all of the answers, and I felt totally shocked and a little disillusioned. "What happened?" I thought. "How did she lose her magical way of making everything better?" At some point during my late twenties I got up the guts to ask her about this (in a loving, appreciative way) and she laughed.
"Well, it's easy to solve the problems of a five year old," she said, "because their needs are pretty simple and they share all of their thoughts and feelings with you. You are the mother, and you are in control of their day-to-day lives so you can really fix just about anything. As your child grows up, making them happy gets a whole lot more challenging because so many things are completely out of your control."
I thought about this conversation tonight as I was driving my brood home from dinner. My son is starting to show signs of his independence, that he has thoughts and feelings and experiences every day that I cannot share with him and I sometimes may not even be aware of - unless he chooses to tell me. Today's dream is a prime example of this... had he not shared it with us in the car, I would never have known two important things about my son: (a) That he daydreams frequently (usually good dreams); and (b) That he experiences nightmares that are sometimes graphic and difficult to forget.
I wish I could shield my children from all bad things. Bad dreams included. Unfortunately, life doesn't work that way and this is not likely to be the last nightmare that one of my babies has to process. Knowing what a vivid dreamer I have been for most of my own life, it is probably just the beginning for them of a long lifetime of dreaming.
My goal as their mother then, is to embrace and accept them no matter what they are dreaming of... try to encourage a positive and open dialogue where each child feels comfortable telling me anything - even about the scary or violent visions that enter their little heads... and to work even harder to build a home that feels safe to them, so that any darkness they experience within their hearts or minds in the coming years can be balanced with the light and love of family.
Saturday, February 26, 2011
About an hour ago my three year old started complaining about his neck. "My neck is sore, mommy!" he said, "I think my neck is too sore to take a bath."
We happened to be in the bathroom (to take the aforesaid bath) at that moment so I handily whipped out the ear thermometer from the medicine box to check for a fever. Lo and behold... nada mucho. 99.1. Nothing to write home about, at least not yet.
Still, I'm edgy. I called the nurse at our pediatrician's office - an office that is now a 25 minute drive away, but probably worth sticking with because they offer evening hours until 8pm every day, Saturday hours until 5pm AND Sunday hours during flu season. I left one of the typical cheerfully paranoid messages for which I am probably famous around their office after bringing all three of my three children to them for every major illness over the past six years:
"Hi. This is ___________. I am calling about my son ______________, whose birthdate is June ___, 2007. Our phone number is ______________. The reason I'm calling is, well, my son has just started complaining about his neck hurting, and that worries me, because my husband and I know of someone here in San Diego that died of acute bacterial meningitis about a month ago. So I just wanted to ask what the symptoms of meningitis are and what to look out for. I mean, I'm not worried or anything. But I just want to be sure to ask. So that if he gets worse, I will know what to do. Thanks. His name is ______________ and you can reach us, again, at this number _______________."
I can literally picture the nurses standing around the office answering machine laughing and rolling their eyes in a good natured way. "There she goes again!" they say, "That poor woman really needs to relax! You'd think after three children, she'd chill out a little!"
I wish I could! I wish I could just escape to a tropical island with some delicious fruity and alcoholic beverage, a great book and maybe (if he's lucky!) my husband to lay next to me on the beach. We could just lounge there under the hot sun peacefully, enjoying the sound of waves crashing on the shore and birds faintly chirping. And nothing else. Not one other sound - especially not the frantic crying and whining I am listening to at this very moment as my husband gives the evening bath.
But I can't turn my back on my kids when they are sick, or at any other time. So it comes down to figuring out what "real" sickness looks like, and sometimes that is hard to do. Sometimes it seems worse than it really is, and other times it seems a lot better than it really is.
Once when my little son was 18 months old he developed a 104 degree fever that wouldn't break for two days and I raced him tearfully to the pediatrician to discover that he had a mild case of Hand-Foot-Mouth disease (Coxsackie virus) and that there was nothing we could do for it but give him popsicles until the virus passed.
Another time we waited a week to take our daughter to the doctor when she was running a 103.5 degree fever that went down with Tylenol but wouldn't seem to break - because we thought it was just a cold or flu that would pass, and she actually turned out to have a double ear infection and pneumonia! My sons have been tested for strep throat four times. Two times they actually had it... two times, they didn't.
Basically it never seems safe to assume anything about their health, positive or negative. You'd think after six years I'd know all of the signs to look for and have all of the acetaminophin dosages memorized by heart but I ask the same questions every time, because the idea of any of my little people being seriously ill terrifies me to the point that my IQ drops about 40 points every time I place a call to the after hours nurse.
I also often wonder why it is that my children typically manage to get sick on Friday evening anywhere between 9pm and 3am, rather than at some reasonable hour like say, noon. I guess this falls under the heading of Murphy's law but I'll be darned if it doesn't seem like my personal law by now.
My theorem would look something like, "If it seems to be the worst possible moment for a child to become ill, and if neither parent slept well last night, then YES, the child will be feverish and vomiting until morning ~ when they will likely make a miraculous recovery".
A dermatologist I once met told me that he and his wife were sick for the first eight years of their children's lives but after that developed fantastic immunity and never got sick again. That gives me hope - we've still got over two years to go to show that we can match their mettle! In the interim I'm working hard to build our immune systems with healthy food, and my family gets good sleep and good exercise but I can't claim to do either of the latter myself.
The telephone has yet to ring with a call from our nurse, but I think I'm off the hook for tonight. After being too sore to take a bath, my little son ate a large dinner and then told me that his neck was feeling much better and he thought it had just been "hungry". No fever combined with a healthy appetite and no other pains leads me to believe that maybe he just strained his neck somehow, possibly when he was riding his bike earlier in the afternoon.
According to Dr. Mommy, odds are 99% he's going to be just fine.
RX: Two hugs and three kisses and a lively bedtime story.
I'm still ready for that tropical vacation though. And as long as I'm dreaming, I'm going to throw in a beachside masseuse and a really sumptuous all day meal with lots of gorgeous courses and plenty of dessert, just for me. No-one ever gets a tummyache in paradise, right?
Friday, February 25, 2011
Lately I've been trying to figure out just how many things I can do (and do well) at the same time. I've always been pretty good at multitasking but in the past it was more like an added benefit... something that was a nice skill to have in the toolbox but not a necessity.
This month with our move, three children, my writing work, this blog and the need to sleep it seems like multitasking has become a *must*. There is so much to accomplish in a day and even though I've been burning the candle at both ends, I'm still falling short.
So, I find myself getting creative. Can I write a blog while cooking dinner? Can I do laundry and unpack boxes while writing and overseeing homework for my kindergartner? Can I pick up the snack for my little boy's preschool while my older son spends time in his 30 minute dance class? It turns out that all of these things are possible... as long as the traffic signals comply.
A life for one is fluid and spontaneous, charting its own course day by day... subject only to the structure that each individual is willing to have imposed upon him or herself. If you WANT to have a job, you have to conform to the rules of the company... if you WANT to drive yourself around, you have to conform to speed limits and stop signs. If you aren't interested in rules, you can buy yourself a bicycle and go live in the woods in a tent and no-one is going to stand in your way.
A life for a family of five turns out to be somewhat different than that. When you sign on to be a parent you agree to sublimate your individuality almost entirely for the welfare of another human being, which means that there are many new rules and expectations that must be conformed to.
It doesn't matter if my husband and I are exhausted and running on no sleep, we still need to get out of bed each morning and care for our children. There are meals to be prepared, baths to be given, clothing to launder, schools to attend. There are carseats and strollers to purchase (an absolute necessity because there is no way you are going to carry that little helpless eight pound newborn bundle around in your arms all day long).
Even after nearly six years, I am still getting used to all of the rules that come along with parenting. Last Friday my son threw an impressively large tantrum and refused to get into the car before school, meaning that we arrived ten minutes after the last bell and I had to do the walk of shame with him and his little sister... into the front office where we asked for a late slip and were confronted with the reasonable question, "Why were you late today? What is your reason?" Both of the front office secretaries looked at me expectantly as though I might have something Earth-shattering to say like, "Well you see, there was this mutant kangaroo in our kitchen! I had to defend the contents of the refrigerator!"
Of course, we had no good reason for being late. I was itching to respond, "Um, my ineptitude as a mother? My lack of ability to quell the tantrum of a nearly six year old boy?" but instead I just looked at the woman writing the slip. To her credit she looked back at me, took in the sour faces all three of us were sporting at that moment, and graciously said - "Just late? Ok, I'll write 'late'. Try not to let it happen again." She was talking, by the way, to me... not my son.
Reprimanded like a four year old for getting my kid to school late! And that isn't even the worst of it. Just one day earlier the principal of his school had to talk with me about parking for too long in the 3 minute loading zone to pick him up at the end of the day. "Once you vacate your vehicle," she said (and yes, she used the word vacate instead of something less formal like 'leave') "You can be written a hefty ticket for abandoning the car in a loading zone. Please don't do it again."
Have I mentioned that his principal looks to be younger than I am?
Twice then, I've broken the rules of parenting... rules I didn't even know were in place for me now. Society places these expectations upon you automatically when you join certain groups, and there isn't really room in there to say, "Well you see, I didn't *feel* like parking three blocks away and hefting the stroller in and out of the car twice, because I have a lumbar disc herniation!" The only thing to say instead is, "I'm sorry and it won't happen again."
This is why I have to get much better about multitasking and organization. If I become a better organized parent than I can plan for the possibility of a lengthy morning tantrum, getting my kids dressed and ready so early that it won't matter if it takes us fifteen minutes to get into the car. I need to make sensible decisions like getting their clothing laid out the night before, while packing their lunch boxes. And doing the dinner dishes. And finishing up that last load of laundry. And writing this blog!
I find it truly ironic that women who take time away from their careers often find it very difficult to get hired again, once they are ready to return to the workplace. I can honestly say that - having worked from age 16 to age 31 with no breaks - the last four years *away* from the office/classroom have been incredibly rigorous and forced me to develop strategies and skills I would never have dreamed of needing. I am a much more skilled negotiator, mediator and visionary than I was five years go, not to mention far better organized and self-disciplined.
Any company in the world would be lucky to have a group of middle aged former-stay-at-home mothers on its team, as we would maximize productivity and cut costs in half just from the sheer force of our will. (We would, however, demand excellent benefits... because any stay at home parent can tell you just how important health insurance is when you have one or more coughing feverish snotty little germ factories under the age of ten.)
In sum, multitasking is the strategy that is preserving my sanity and our family life during this current time of transition. It's lucky that my three little monkeys are so darn cute because in our circus-like home I'm juggling all of the time right now... and their hilarious antics make it all worthwhile.
Thursday, February 24, 2011
When we became parents nearly six years ago my husband and I figured out pretty quickly that we were better spouses to each other and better parents to our children if we each got a certain amount of 'personal' time during the week to maintain the hobbies, interests and friendships that we'd nurtured before turning into "mom" and "dad".
In practice this turned into a divided weekend... time on Saturday for my husband, time on Sunday for myself. (When lucky, there is a little time for us to spend time with each other in the evenings ~ sometimes for a date night.)
I chose to have Sunday as my personal day so that I could embrace the M-F grind each week with the most positive and refreshed attitude possible.
Typically on a Saturday my husband spends several hours enjoying the great outdoors from the seat of his bicycle, sometimes biking alone and other times joining up with friends or even cycling groups. He is quite an incredible athlete, actually, and can put in a 30 mile ride in a few hours without much effort. Once he returns he then often spends the rest of the day programming code for one of his websites while listening to really good music. After a day devoted to cycling and getting extra work off of his plate, he's ready for Sunday with the kids.
We are blessed to live in a city that boasts a mild climate year-round, so my husband is able to adhere to this routine at least 48 weeks out of the year. Occasionally though, the weather does not comply with his drive to exercise... and today was one of those days. Intermittently rainy and very cold (it is hailing as I type this!) today was definitely not ideal for cycling.
Unfortunately the very same weather that kept my husband home from his favorite activity obliged me to keep our little boys in the house this morning as well. The new back yard is a sea of mud and muck (although our trees and bushes seem quite exuberant about the moisture).
As you may imagine, little boys do not like being cooped up in small enclosed spaces any more than big ones do. By mid-morning, our home was almost unbearably loud and chaotic - full of dramatic tantrums punctuating an endless game of "chase" around the house.
My husband gave me the look that says, "If it doesn't get calmer in here soon I'm going to have to leave and go to work at the library," and I made the command decision that it was time for a date.
A date with mommy!
"Hey boys," I called. "How would you feel about going to lunch and a movie?"
"YESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" they cried, and came running.
"Where are we having lunch?"
"How soon can we go?"
"What should I wear?"
"I love dates!"
My husband graciously agreed to watch our daughter (who was due for naptime anyway) while I took the little rapscallions with me into the great big rainy world.
After a quick consultation with Yahoo! movies, we determined that there was only ONE movie currently playing in theaters that was Rated G. "Gnomeo and Juliet it is!" I declared, and my boys clamored to watch the preview to make sure that it wouldn't be TOO SCARY!!! ~ as they had determined both Tangled and Despicable Me to be.
Thankfully it is very hard (even for a three year old) to be frightened of a cartoon garden gnome. (He did manage to get frightened of the gnomes... but that wasn't until much later.) Giggling gleefully then, the boys allowed themselves to be dressed in layers and strapped into their car seats. "DATE! DATE! DATE! DATE!" they chanted as I raced around trying to find my own purse, keys, cell phone and jacket.
At last we were off on our way, headed for adventure. Unfortunately the actual drive between home and ADVENTURE can seem torturous to a small child. Within the first ten blocks or so our car conversation was punctuated by: "Are we almost there?" / "Are we at the movie yet?" / "Is there a potty at the movie because I have to go pee Mommy!" / "I'm hungry!" / "Are we at the movie theater because I want to see the movie."
Arriving at a fancy grocery store, we did the sensible thing and purchased lunch right away. "I want a healthy lunch," my five year old insisted, "I'm going to get a HEALTHY lunch today!" but when he saw his little brother headed for the pizza counter, his tune changed very quickly. "I WANT PEPPERONI! I WANT PEPPERONI PIZZA! PLEEEEEEEEASE MOMMY?" (We compromised on pepperoni pizza *and* a salad with peas and carrots.)
The process of purchasing tickets for the movie reminded me of something I often forget - how small and inexperienced my sons really are. The little one couldn't even see the top of the ticket counter, let alone the man behind it actually selling the tickets. My elder son's eyes bugged out at the top of the escalator, and he nervously asked me for help but it was too late - I was already halfway down the escalator with the little son's hand in mine. "Wait for me there," I called, "I'll come right up for you!"
Before I could act though, he decided to go for it and I held my breath as I watched him put his hand squarely on the handrail, stepping confidently onto the escalator. When he realized that he'd done it and he was actually riding safely down to the bottom, his tense face burst into a radiant smile that could have illuminated the entire shopping mall - "I DID IT!!!!!!!!!!!! MOMMMEEEE DID YOU SEE, I DID IT!!!!!!!!!!!" His little brother and I cheered.
As we navigated through the crowded theater toward our matinee, I couldn't help but feel proud and lucky. After all, I was flanked on either side by the two handsomest young men in the world, each of whom wanted to hold one of my hands. They were charming and full of witty banter and conversation, continually checking in with me and soliciting my opinion about everything we encountered - "What do you think of that picture mommy? Is that good food mommy? Do you think these seats are nice mommy? Are you excited about the movie mommy?"
My boys insisted that I sit in the middle right between them. When the lights went down for the previews, one son squeezed my hand hard and said, "I love you, mommy". The other son (who is typically less effusive with his affection) actually leaned his head on my shoulder and held my right hand tightly. In the dark, tears formed in my eyes and I said a silent little prayer of gratitude to have shared such a quiet and loving moment with my boys.
The movie was just so-so, certainly not the equal of the Pixar films. As it turns out, garden gnomes are not quite as cute and funny as they seemed in the preview... a lot of the humor seemed intended for adults but none of the adults in the audience were laughing. There was also a significant amount of violence (I hadn't realized how closely the script would stick with the original Romeo and Juliet plotline) and by about ten minutes into the film my three year old was asking if we could go home.
We stuck it out for over an hour, but in one of the more frightening scenes featuring a scary lawnmower the little guy started to cry and it was evident that we needed to end our movie date early.
"But WHY do we have to leave?" the elder one whined, "I *liked* that movie! It was G!!!"
I then gently reminded him of three or so movies that he had insisted that we leave in years past because they were too scary. "Sometimes even movies made for kids can seem really scary for a little person."
"Can we at least get a treat then?" he negotiated.
"Yes, that seems fair." We ended our date with Swiss chocolate divided into squares. Each of my handsome companions threw caution to the wind while rapturously licking chocolate off of their fingertips. They ended up with smudges of chocolate on their cheeks and a glazed over but happy countenance as we began to head for home.
We drove quietly back through the damp afternoon, murmuring to each other but mostly lost in our own thoughts. My boys stared with drooping eyelids out of their windows, their quietude and slower breathing alerting me to the imminence of naptime. Then out of the blue, my little son piped up from the back of the car:
"You know the Juliet gnome? The girl?"
"Yes honey, what about her?"
"I think you are a lot prettier than her mommy."
"Oh sweetie," I blushed happily. "What a wonderful compliment! You boys are the best dates ever."
"Mommy?" the older boy interjected.
"I like going on dates with you. Can we have another date soon?"
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
This isn't a good moment for me. I'm sitting alone in my bedroom, supposedly getting "a break" from the kids for a few minutes while my husband reads them a bedtime story but the walls of our new house are paper thin and I can hear every word in stereo:
"Where the orange thingy is, that is where the comet hit the Earth, daddy."
"Oh, you think so? I don't know about that..."
"One more page and then it's bedtime?"
"No, it's bedtime now. Do you have your drink?"
"I don't know where it is!!!"
A considerable amount of whining is bleeding through the wall and all I can do is look around and feel a momentary angst noticing all of the boxes which must still be unpacked, the bins of clothing that must be put away or washed and folded; essentially, the mess.
I am feeling really frustrated with myself for not being able to hold things together better. Ten years ago I felt so confident and capable, able to multitask with the best of them and juggle my career, life, home and health... even the fun of dating and having a full social calendar.
I don't really know what has happened! Somehow I had three children in five years and everything fell apart. I seem now to be able to take care of only one major thing each day while putting them through their daily paces. Between making breakfast, packing lunches, bathing and dressing three kids... and then taking them to two separate schools, I awaken at 6:30 but don't have a moment to breathe before 9:15. Then I have three hours to take care of my one major task before beginning the afternoon cycle of school pickups, afterschool snacks, homework, playtime, cooking dinner, doing laundry, bathing all three of them again and dealing with the bedtime routine.
I'm so sorry for whining, I can hear it in my tone and it makes me feel quite ashamed. I am not actually complaining about the work load - I adore my job, I adore my children. I am actually just frustrated with myself for not being more capable, more organized, more... ideal.
Today was a writing day. I write content for my husband's company to pay for my son's preschool and thanks to our recent move I am really behind this month in my work, I have to complete all of it in the next three days. So during my three hour morning window I wrote content with an ardent focus, ignoring the dirty dishes in the sink and all of the boxes left to unpack. I wrote content while my younger children played in the back yard after preschool and then again when my eldest was napping after kindergarten. I wrote content with kids screaming at my feet, pulling on my hair and needing multiple diaper changes.
The result is that I researched and wrote four articles today but now my house is a disaster area and it is 9pm. If a friend dropped by our home unannounced right now I would be beyond mortified by the mess.
Every day seems to have a theme to fill the handful of hours I have to accomplish anything and I haven't found a day yet since we moved whose theme is "Putting ME Back Into Balance". Tomorrow will be a rainy Saturday trapped in the house unless we brave the thunderstorm so the theme will likely be KIDS, GRUMPY KIDS. On Sunday and Monday I once again need to be writing content for my husband. Tuesday will bring cleaning day, wherein we have a housecleaner come and she and I work side by side from 9 until 2 cleaning this house. (And yes, it does take two adults five hours at a minimum to mitigate the havoc my children are capable of wreaking in a week.)
So facing all of this down and feeling as incompetent as I do, it's time to invoke my sister's sterling rule: Ten For Every One.
I don't know if my sister made this up or if she got it from somewhere else but essentially the idea is that for every one negative thought you catch yourself having you need to come up with ten positive thoughts. The point is not just to be a Pollyanna. The point is actually to retrain your brain not to jump for the negative.
It's clear that I've already hit my one negative for the night... in all honesty, I've probably got two hundred positive things to think of to balance out the negative and frustrated thoughts I've had this evening. I'm going to cut myself a break on that though, at least for now.
Instead I am going to lay out the one main negative and then come up with ten positives, just like my sister recommends. At the least, it will be a step in the right direction.
NEGATIVE: I feel like a failure, again.
1. We have a warm safe house to sleep in tonight.
2. My son has earned a "good work" card from his teacher every day since he started the new school last week.
3. My daughter has taught herself how to sing and is now singing and dancing along to the theme music from Caillou.
4. My mother and I had a great bonding experience last night.
5. I've been getting more and better quality sleep since we moved to the new house.
6. MOST IMPORTANTLY!!! My dear friend has been declared cancer-free and can now heal from surgery and move on with her life!!! This is the really crucial one.
7. My husband rode his bike to work and back today and was not struck by a vehicle (one of my worst fears). He had fun.
8. I'm more than halfway to my goal of completing all of my writing work for the month.
9. My younger son and I met the mother of one of his preschool classmates (and her son) today at kindergarten pickup today, a nice lady with two boys who moved here recently from Cleveland. She seemed friendly and like a really good mother.
10. As alone as I feel, I know I have so many dear friends I could turn to who would be there for me in a pinch. I am blessed by my friendships.
So there you have it - my Ten vs. my One. I have to admit that writing all of that out really did help to put things in perspective a little bit better, especially when it got to the part about my dear friend's healing. That really matters so much more than anything else... a thousand times as much.
I am still feeling exhausted and grumpy, let down by my day and most of all let down by myself. Yet, I think I have located my motivation to make things better? So I will head off now to fold some laundry, tidy this bedroom and remind myself that tomorrow is another day - completely fresh with no mistakes and no failures yet.
Even in this temporary blue funk I do realize that there is really nothing better or more hopeful than the gift of a brand new, clean day where anything is possible.
Tuesday, February 22, 2011
Within the last year two people I greatly respect have recommended that I read a book by Gavin de Becker called "Protecting The Gift", which shares valuable information with parents about how to best keep their children and adolescents safe from predators and dangerous situations.
I took their advice and did read through the book, which I found to be both extremely worrisome and also very helpful. One of the main kernels of wisdom that stuck with me from his philosophy was the importance of teaching your children how to listen to and follow their intuition. De Becker explains in great detail how important it is for children to pay attention to signals that the adults around them may send about being trustworthy. He also gives concrete advice for parents about how even small children can protect themselves in moments of vulnerability (e.g. ask a woman for help, rather than waiting to find a police officer).
Since reading the book I've had several talks with my sons about intuition, and how to know whether they are getting a good or bad feeling from a person or event. I don't really think they have understood or internalized the message yet, but at least we've initiated the conversation and over the years we can return to it. I don't want to make my children fearful of the world around them, but I do think that they are savvy enough to have figured out by themselves that some people are nice and others are not... and that they each have the inner capacity to tell the difference.
Tonight I encountered a situation that forced me to access my own intuition very rapidly and left me shaken, wondering if I had responded in the correct way. I've been reflecting for the past hour on what happened and sending up prayers that if I misunderstood or made the wrong choice, some divine force will send assistance or aid where it is needed.
My mother and I had just enjoyed a truly fantastic Girls Night Out wherein we dressed up, met for dinner downtown and then took a shuttle over to see a really darling musical that I am quite sure will make it to Broadway. The entire evening was quite magical and we had such a great time! When the shuttle dropped us back off in front of the restaurant where we'd each parked, we were in high spirits.
Being that my mother is over 70 years old ~ despite her zest, enthusiasm and good health ~ I tend to be very protective of her. I insisted upon walking her to her car, and we were delighted to see that we had parked directly across the street from each other. With a quick hug goodnight, we parted company and I stood and watched my mother cross the street and get into her car. Once she was safely in her seat with the door locked, I sat in my truck with the lights on, listening to music on the radio and waiting for her to put on her seatbelt and start her engine.
Even though the street was well lit, it was also a bit too quiet and I wanted to make sure that my mother got off safely toward home. My deceased father would certainly have asked me to do as much.
Suddenly, as I sat waiting for her, in a blur of white a woman with streaming hair came running up to the passenger side of my truck and began pounding on the window. Strangely, she was on the street side of my vehicle right in the middle of traffic. In the moments that ensued my mind cycled through a complex calculation about what was happening but my gut spoke quickly and loudly. "GET AWAY!" my gut said, "THIS IS VERY WEIRD."
Rapidly I assessed her wild-eyed look and her outfit (a white billowing scarf, short white shorts and white heeled boots) and reflected split-second on the irony that she was dressed a little bit like a hooker but in the color of an angel.
I do not know if it was intelligent or completely lame, but I decided to pull away. I could not easily roll down the passenger side window to ask her what she wanted or why she was hitting my car because I was driving a truck with manual windows. I would have had to turn off the car, unbuckle my seatbelt, lean over and manually roll down the window just to see whether she was friend or foe. Whatever she wanted, it looked like it would add a significant amount of drama to the evening.
So laid my hand on my car horn and honked it loudly to get my mother's attention, signaled to the woman that I was going to pull away, and my mother and I left the area. I followed my mother's car until she was safely headed home and then I split off toward the freeway leading to my own house.
Did I overreact? Could the woman have needed help? Was I cold-hearted and overly suspicious rather than acting generously as a good Samaritan? Or was she a hooker with a nearby pimp and poor intentions...
All I know is, I followed my intuition and rightly or wrongly it told me not to get involved.
I believe that if I was a man I would probably have made a different choice. My husband is never intimidated by odd situations and I think he would probably have asked her what she wanted. However in my 35 years of being a female I have seen and heard of a lot of weird and even monstrous things that have happened to women, especially women alone at night. When I was younger I acted less cautiously but after having close friends victimized physically and sexually, I grew to be more conservative.
I am also a mother to three small children and my allegiance is to them above all. Whatever this woman was into or up to, my children needed a mother to come home safe and sound tonight so that I could be here in the morning to bathe, feed and dress them. My gut instinct will always, always be to do whatever is in their best interest at all times.
Do I sound defensive? I am definitely feeling guilty. There is still an off chance that the wild-eyed woman wasn't a hooker or on crystal meth, and that she actually needed my help. I worried all the way home that I had made the wrong choice ~ that God had sent me an opportunity to do good and I had acted out of fear rather than love.
When I got back to my house, I called my mother to make sure that she had gotten home okay and talk about what had happened. I did not think she had seen the woman at all.
"Thank you so much," my mother said, "I had such a wonderful evening."
"Me too, it was great! I am a little freaked out about the end of the night though, did you see that woman? She came up and was banging on the side of my car!"
"I did see her in the street but I didn't realize she was actually hitting your car."
"It was really weird, mom! I didn't know what to do. I feel really badly. Do you think I should call the police and tell them that a woman in distress may need their help?"
"No, I don't think that is necessary. Honestly, there were restaurants on all four of those corners that were still open for business. If she really needed help she could have gone into any of them. She seemed a little off to me."
"I feel so guilty, like I let her down."
"I don't think at 11pm at night on a dark street downtown you need to be getting involved in anything like that. I think you did the right thing. I think your intuition was right."
Despite my mother's reassurance though, I am still feeling really uncomfortable.
The unfortunate thing is that I will never really know if my intuition *was* right and I protected myself or my mother from harm, or if my gut instinct was totally callous and perhaps that lady was simply in desperate need of assistance. What if her husband was having a heart attack and she just needed a cell phone? What if she was trying to get away from an abusive boyfriend? What if?
I hate that we live in a society where the motto "Better safe than sorry" is often accurate. I wish I could teach my children to meet everyone in the world with an open and trusting heart, and assure them that their innocence, goodwill and generosity would be returned in full. I hate knowing that someday my daughter will perhaps need to run to her car late at night with her keys in her fist and her heart pounding, to protect herself from lurking and unforeseen danger.
Tonight I will pray to God on behalf of that woman (may she be safe, may she be well, may she be at peace) ~ for myself (may I learn to hear the voice of my own intuition more clearly, may I grow more comfortable with trusting my gut instinct) ~ and for my children (may they be protected, may they be loved, may they develop their own keen inner sense of right and wrong).
Monday, February 21, 2011
I've been cooking dinner for the last twenty minutes, during which time two special things have taken place. First, our doorbell rang and when I went to answer it (flanked by three children) I came face to face with yet another kind-looking woman. In her hand she held a petition. "Wow!" I thought, "My first petition of the neighborhood!" I was interested to see what kind of issue she was canvassing for.
How lovely then, to discover that she was a neighbor from down the block collecting signatures for a new Farmer's Market to be held just three blocks from our house in a local church parking lot! "It will be mainly produce," she described, "Just fresh, locally grown food."
Have I mentioned how much I *love* this new place?
The lady's name was Kay* and she welcomed us quite warmly to the block. "I have to say," she confided, "I was so happy to hear children inside of this house when you came to the door. I'm not sure if you knew the people who lived here before you, but we often wondered if they were in a witness protection program because they NEVER went outside, they never participated in any of our events. They were always in the house."
Kay is not the first of our new neighbors to mention the isolationist tendencies of the prior tenants of this house. Oh well, they may have kept to themselves but they can't have been too bad because this house actually feels full of great energy and an almost tangible happiness. Maybe the house itself is happy that we're here!
After signing Kay's petition and exchanging pleasantries, I returned to my post at the kitchen sink and had just begun to rinse vegetables when I heard a car pull up in front of our house. I looked out the window and as it turned out, the car was actually just turning into the driveway directly across our street. "That's odd," I thought, "Milton* has to be at least 80 years old and I know he doesn't drive anywhere, nor have any family in town. I wonder who is pulling into his driveway!"
Milton is a stooped older man across the street who lives alone and appears to have a touch of dementia. I first saw him before we had even signed the lease here, when I had come to check out the exterior of the property before setting up a meeting with the property manager. He was gardening in front of his home wearing a long sleeved white button down shirt, socks and shoes... and his underpants, which happened to be very short silk boxers.
My family has a lot of recent personal experience with Alzheimer's disease under our belts, so rather than feeling shocked I felt great empathy for the man. I waved at him but he did not respond, just slunk slowly back into his house.
A few days later, I pulled up to our new house with signed lease in hand and saw a glamourous looking woman with dark hair wearing jogging pants pulling the large city trash bins up his driveway.
"Hi!" I waved. "Do you live here?"
"No," she came down to where I was standing.
"Oh, well we do! We've just signed our lease."
"That's great! The man who lives here is Milton, he is an older gentleman and I keep my eye out for him. His wife died about fourteen years ago and he really keeps to himself, but I feel for the guy. He has no-one here to care for him and his only child lives in New Mexico... doesn't EVER come to visit. I try to help him where I can, I've given him a ride home a few times. Once he dropped his wallet in front of the bus stop and he couldn't bend down to pick it up so I helped him."
She looked around and then in a softer tone of voice, "Milton isn't actually a very friendly man - I think he and his wife knew your next door neighbors a bit, but he tends to keep to himself. I just really feel badly for him; it must be awful to be old and so alone. That's why I had four kids," she smiled, "Hopefully at least one of them will want to check in on me now and again when I am an old lady."
We chatted a little more and then parted company, but not before exchanging a promise to stop by and say hello when we passed each other's homes. "Would you mind watching out for him a little?" she asked, "It would make me feel better to know that someone was keeping an eye on him."
"We'd love to," I said.
This then constitutes all that I currently know about Milton but it was certainly enough to cause me to pay close attention when the black car traveled up Milton's driveway this afternoon. "Who could be driving that jazzy black BMW?" I wondered. "Is it his son? Is it a friend? Is someone taking advantage of his driveway?"
I watched closely until the driver's side door swung open and then found myself smiling and nodding. "Of course," I murmured. "That makes perfect sense." Ducking out of the driver's door was the same beautiful woman with her glossy mane of dark hair. I watched as she made her way around the car and carefully opened up the passenger side door, from which emerged stooped, white haired Milton. "Where did she find him this time?" I wondered out loud.
For the second time in 30 minutes, I found myself so happy to be living in this neighborhood. The people here really do care about each other and it shows through... from their myriad acts of kindness toward each other to their definite concern for the environment.
Since we moved in last week we've already received a welcome gift of Valentine's candy from our neighbor across the alley and also a warm welcome from our neighbors to the left of Milton's house - whose expansive home features a large neon peace sign glowing over the front door. This is more neighborly behavior than we've experienced in the past three years or longer.
Having such nice neighbors inspires me to want to BE a good neighbor.
In the past few years my family may have fallen into the habit of defensive neighborliness - anxiety over our children creating too much noise, resentment each time our neighbors came by to complain, frustration that they expressed unhappiness with our family despite our voluntary creation of rules about which hours our children could play outside (not before 9am or after 7pm).
Our prior next door neighbor was an ER doc with odd sleeping hours, and I can recall multiple times when she was shouting at my kids through the fence to be quiet... at say, 2pm. (Ironically, they never seemed to worry about *our* sleeping hours when they threw parties on weekends that would keep my kids up after midnight thanks to all of the raucous adult laughter and conversation.
All this to say, I'd gotten used to avoiding my neighbors and even (I'm ashamed to admit) ridiculing my neighbors. It has been a long time then, since I've actively admired my neighbors... far too long since I've actively tried to BE a good neighbor.
What are the values then, that I hope to instill in my own kids about neighborliness? What makes a good neighbor? Here are some of the things I hope to convey:
A good neighbor...
- watches out for the other folks on their block, and helps out when needed
- offers or volunteers assistance
- brings food in the event of joys or hardships (e.g. new babies, bereavements)
- makes a sincere effort to be courteous and aware of how their actions (and the actions of their children and pets!) affect the people around them
- participates in group building activities ~ from block parties to holiday decorating and Neighborhood Watch
- is prepared to help others beyond their own family in the event of an emergency or natural disaster
- lives by the Golden Rule... do unto others as you would have them do unto you
*Names changed to protect the privacy of the parties mentioned herein.
Sunday, February 20, 2011
So it's been that kind of day. The kind where life is one big screwball comedy and I am the chief screwball. I am so thankful for the gift of humor because without it I think I might be weeping by now. Instead, I'm actually grinning from ear to ear ~ and I really assume that things are going to get better very quickly.
The day started off, as usual, with a matched set of tantrums. First one son, then the other. They were each crying because (and I kid you not), they were cold getting out of the bathtub but they would not deign to let us dry them off with a towel.
They were "too cold" to put on their warm clothes, sitting neatly folded less than a foot away. I am ashamed to say that it took my husband and I twenty minutes to get the two of them dressed because we had to actually remove them from the bathtub, dry them and put on their clothing while they squirmed and cried about how cold it was.
Doesn't Bill Cosby say something about all children being born with brain damage? Maybe he's onto something there. Seriously, you're too cold to get warm? Hmmmm....
Next up, my elder son decided that breakfast was "too yucky" to eat. I wasn't going to let him go to school on an empty stomach - that wasn't going to do either his teacher or him any favors. So, by the time I got him to eat three quarters of his bowl of oatmeal with milk, we had four minutes to get him to school. Just made it, by the skin of our teeth - right as the final bell was ringing. Phew!
My daughter and I raced home to grab some breakfast before heading to the chiropractor. Well actually, I was supposed to drop her off with her daddy at his office while I was at the chiropractor. That didn't happen though, and I will explain why.
I've been helping a dear friend of mine to set up a job interview at a school where I used to teach. She would be a perfect fit for the organization and school culture. They'd be lucky to have her, I think it would be a total win-win. Unfortunately due to some last minute changes I got an email this morning (sent late last night) to let me know that her meeting would be today at 10. I got the email at 9:15! Eek!
I spent twenty minutes trying to sort that out for her, and found myself heading to the chiropractor running quite late. As we approached my husband's office it became clear to me that we would never be on time for the chiro appt if I didn't just head straight there with the baby in tow. "My doctor won't mind," I thought to myself - "He has twin daughters of his own. He loves kids!" and so we pulled off the highway to get to the appointment.
After circling for several blocks we finally found a parking space and I popped the stroller out of the car. "Can't wait to get my back fixed up!" I thought, "At last, after all of this moving!" I settled my squirmy daughter (who was roaring like a dinosaur) into her stroller seat and buckled her in. Grabbing the diaper bag I suddenly noticed a foul odor. "What's that smell?" I asked.
Oh dear, I'd gone and stepped in some dung on the sidewalk. (Honestly, what kind of people let their animals roam freely and poop on the sidewalk, without cleaning it up? I have three pooping creatures at my house and I would NEVER leave one of their diapers on a sidewalk or anywhere else for that matter without cleaning it up. That's just called courtesy!)
So there I was, with dung all over the bottom of my UGG boot, just a few moments before the appointment time. "Oh well," I sang, "That's actually kind of funny!" Groping inside of the diaper bag I was thrilled to find a new package of baby wipes and was able to take care of the problem pretty quickly, getting my UGGs just about as clean as they'd been before the dung incident. "Time for mommy to wash her hands!" I told my daughter, who nodded sagely and then roared like a dinosaur again.
After hoisting her stroller up the five stairs to the front door of the chiropractor's office (What, no ramp? Must've been in the back? I'm sure people in wheelchairs see chiropractors too?) I realized that there was still a really strong scent of poop. This time, not coming from me. "Uh oh, honey. Do you need a diaper change?" Checking her I discovered that indeed, my dinosaur girl had created quite a swampy diaper. Sigh.
We headed back to the bathroom of the chiropractor's office where I proceeded to sing her the alphabet while changing her diaper and pretending that I too was a dinosaur. After MUCH handwashing (both before, and after her diaper change) we were at last ready to emerge into the office, just a few minutes late for my appointment. "Great!" I thought, "The morning will start fresh from here."
We went back out to the lobby and began to wait. There is never a receptionist on duty on Tuesdays or Thursdays so it was just the two of us in the waiting room, me and my girl.
We waited. We waited some more. We played swan and duck, kitty cat, dinosaur and dinosaur princess. We read the magazines in the lobby until my daughter began to rip one. We quickly ended that game and began to name things: "Look, that is a tree. Look, that is a telephone. Look, that is a chair!"
At some point, my daughter who is gaining words by the day said in her own blended together way - "Mommeeelessgo!" "MommeeeIwannago!!!"
She had a point. I checked the office clock and realized that we had been waiting for thirty minutes. "That's not like my chiropractor, to be so late. I wonder what happened?" The outside door swung open and a new patient entered the room. He was a taller man, tan and balding, with a kind looking face. "Hello!" he said.
"Hello!" We quickly determined that he had a 10:30 appointment to see the same doc I was supposed to see at 10. Hmmmm.... "Doc must be here, then," I decided - and just as I was going to look for my chiropractor he showed up at the door and looked at me, my daughter and the man quizzically as though we were involved in something interesting but possibly illicit. "Well, hi there!" he said to me, with a confused look and wrinkled forehead. "Were we supposed to meet today?"
As it turned out, his Mon-Wed-Fr secretary had somehow written me down for NEXT Tuesday. Sigh.
With my dinosaur child raring to go and another patient waiting to see the doctor at his correctly scheduled time, it made the most sense to reschedule for tomorrow. Which only meant, I had to drive another 40 minutes back home to our house with nothing to show for my morning except 1/4 less gasoline in my tank and quite a lot of recent experience with poop.
My daughter and I are home now, just about ready to leave again to pick up the middle child from preschool. Unfortunately from the sound of things (total silence) I believe she has just fallen asleep four minutes before we are scheduled to leave the house. Any parent knows, this is the naptime kiss of death. When my girl is rudely awakened by me in 4 minutes to go pick up her brother, she will believe she has napped for hours upon end and refuse to sleep again for the rest of the day.
The house is still a mess with breakfast dishes, I haven't gotten any work done today, and I need to leave again in an hour for another doctor visit. I believe this might be called a wasted day?
Except, there is no way I am going to let a comedy of errors waste my entire day. So, here are the things I am focusing on right now:
Saturday, February 19, 2011
...and there WAS mess, and it was good. Well, sort of!
Yesterday while trying to sort through hundreds of small plastic toys and make room in the garage for more of the furniture that does not fit in our new house, I sat down on the back porch steps and sighed.
"Honey," I said to my husband, "Why does it feel like so many of our friends ended up at the Pottery Barn and we landed at Toys 'r Us?"
My husband laughed. "Maybe because we have three children under the age of six?"
"No, that can't be it. Other people have three children and they still have beautiful homes."
"Well," he smiled. "We're a work in progress."
I can remember a time, almost fifteen years ago, when I was fresh out of college and had been hired on to work for Oracle Corporation as a technical writer and manager. Just six months outside of graduation I was batting my eyelashes at a future filled with international travel, matching furniture, a high salary and stock options.
I found a few roommates and together we moved into a brand new two-level tract house, complete with fluffy carpet and shiny wood floors. I was all set up to live a life of promise, when something happened.
This is the thing that happened. I realized I didn't actually *fit* inside of the cookie cutter.
In fact, I discovered that I was far more Bohemian than I had ever realized. I'd recently met a musician in my home town who lived most of the time out of his van, surfing by day and playing by night. He'd introduced me to a life of squalid college style houses filled with '70s shag carpeting and the ever-present, slightly fetid stench of stale beer. Most of the furniture had been picked up in alleys around the college area, with the philosophy "one man's junk is another man's treasure". The highest success of all within this guy's circle was creating art and letting your art carry you to success.
At that time I had just exited four years of academia coupled with elite privilege and, at times, plasticity. After a week of spending my days with this curly haired Dead-head, I was hooked. Abandoning a life of custom tailored suits and pantyhose I quit my job, left Northern California and headed south for my roots: bicycling the boardwalk, flip flops all day long, music and art.
I didn't end up with that wandering musician but in the process of filtering through my two year relationship with him and its aftermath, I later discovered that what had drawn me to him in the first place was a connection to a deeper part of myself: the part that looks out of windows at the clouds and dreams. In the years after we parted I wrote my own declaration of independence from a well groomed life and instead embraced the freedom of living without rules.
Here are some simple truths about me:
- If I have to choose between money for nice things and time with my family, I choose my family
- I would rather read a book than iron a shirt
- I envy my friends who know how to apply makeup and who always match; despite this, I will probably never wear a lot of makeup and even when I *try* to match my clothes or dress up, one of my children always manages to put a greasy hand directly on my breast
- I gave up my career and the chance to augment my husband's salary for a comfortable life so that I could devote my day to nurturing and caring for our kids; a choice I don't regret ~ despite the fact that this turned out to mean spending 99% of my day cleaning up after them
- Sometimes, I resent my children for being so messy
- Most of the time, I feel frustrated with myself for not being a more competent housekeeper
We came to an arrangement long ago that as long as kitchens and bathrooms are kept clean daily, other mess is okay. Dirt, no. Mess, yes.
Since having children we've created an addendum to this rule. As long as the kids are bathed with clean clothes and clean diapers, with all of the nutritious food they could want ~ the rest doesn't matter so much. And heck, if they eat a little dirt in the back yard it isn't the end of the world either. They'll just have a tougher immune system someday.
Unfortunately neither my husband nor I has an aesthetic vision for how to put our child-shabby furniture together in a lovely way. If we ever end up with a lot of money, my sense is that we will probably go to Z-Gallerie or Pottery Barn and order the things that have already been arranged to match well. Either that or we will hire one of our friends with an eye for interior design and let her have her way with our house. My mother-in-law is also a genius at decorating... that could come in handy.
In all honesty I wish that we had less mess in our lives and more clean unadorned space. I wish I could be as Type A as I know I come across to people who don't know me well. I wish I was organized and capable when it came to our homefront. Still, by the age of 35 you just have to accept the essential truth ~
This is who we are. This is how we live. It's okay.
Friday, February 18, 2011
This morning I decided to check out the local Quaker meeting, something I have been meaning to do for a long time.
When we moved into our neighborhood last week I discovered a small Quaker meeting chapel just a short drive from our home, about three minutes away.
We are Unitarian Universalists and our children typically attend the Unitarian Sunday School, but this weekend my husband took the little ones to visit their grandparents so my morning was free to expand my understanding of faith.
I am very drawn to the beliefs of the Quakers, particularly their commitment to peace and social justice. Like Unitarian Universalism, it seems to be a faith of people who think a lot about the world they live in and how to make it a better and more equitable place.
Last year when I was fairly ill I spent a few days reading A Quaker Book of Wisdom by Robert L. Smith and was quite inspired by his description of Quaker values: simplicity, service and common sense.
If I am understanding it correctly, Quakers believe that no-one needs to intercede on their behalf with God, that it is a direct conversation between the heart of man and his maker.
One of my dearest college roommates was actually married in a Quaker service to which we were invited but were not able to attend. I have always imagined their service as a true union where two people who love each other make their vows and proclaim their love with their own words, in their own manner - deciding for themselves (rather than waiting for a priest or minister to determine) when they are at last married.
Ever since we missed her wedding several years ago, I have hoped that someday I would visit a Quaker meeting and find out more about Quakerism. Today I happily attended a gathering.
This was the setup:
I walked into a room with chairs placed in a circle, with no-one at the head and no-one at the back. There were probably about thirty people all told, most of whom were over the age of fifty. I take this not as a sign that Quakerism is an 'old' faith but more a sign of the community in which the meeting room is located.
Noticing that the others were seated, I took my seat and began to pray.
Here are the rules of the meeting ~ The meeting is open to all. When people arrive they sit and meditate or pray, opening their hearts to receive God's wisdom. If a person in the meeting is moved to stand and share his or her revelation, they do so. At the end of the time of prayer (about an hour?) there is a time to share joys and sorrows, and then a time to attend to the business of the church.
I have never participated in a shared meditation before, the closest thing I have come to it would be taking yoga classes where everyone engages in Savasana at the end of the practice. It felt a little strange at first to be seated with my eyes closed praying in a room full of strangers who were also praying, some of them with their eyes open. Honestly, I wondered how I would stay awake, being tired from a very long week of moving while taking care of three children.
It was a very peaceful time though, I must say. Far removed from the general chaos of my daily existence, I was able to settle gratefully into the silence and try to locate my center. I've never been good at meditating and it was hard to keep my head still and free of thoughts, but I tried to be open to whatever divine radiance might be in that room.
I can't say that in the course of the hour I came across any life-changing revelations, but I was struck by one of the "joys" shared by a woman in her late forties with long reddish hair. "This is a small joy," she said, "Which is actually a larger joy. There is a little hummingbird that lives outside of my door. Last night's rainstorm was so intense I worried that it would not make it through. Yet this morning, the bird was there and had made it. I couldn't help but think, if *that* is possible in this often dark and dangerous world, anything is."
At the end of the meeting they invited me to stay for lunch and conversation, but alas - there were three little children waiting at home to be played with, cared for and nurtured.
As I drove away from this hub of kindness I reflected on their ardently expressed concern for the homeless, their upcoming work in Africa, and the concerns that one member raised about the efficacy of trial by jury in our society ~ about the lack of willingness he found amongst his fellow jurors to keep an open mind and try to see the opposing point of view. All in all, it was a very interesting morning spent with decent folks whose heart is definitely in the right place.
Waiting at the stoplight on the corner to turn my truck toward home, I looked up to see an older woman with a group of her friends who suddenly started to dance. Under the Sunday sun, on the street corner - laughing and dancing in the broad daylight with her hands over her head. She must have been at least fifty years old, but her face was luminous and she and her friends were giggling like teenagers. They clearly had a joie de vivre which, somehow, fit my morning just perfectly.
Thursday, February 17, 2011
My children asked me again today where my father has gone, now that he has passed away.
"He's a fish, right, mommy?" the little one asked.
"No he's not," his older brother interjected. "His body is in the ocean but he is not a fish. Isn't that right, mommy?"
It's tricky to give them an answer that will be honest enough to show them that I respect their intelligence yet limited enough so that they don't get TOO much information ~ e.g. more information than a 5 and 3 year old are capable of processing emotionally.
"I would like to believe," I replied, "that Grandpa is here with us right now in spirit, enjoying watching the two of you grow into wonderful little boys."
"But WHERE does he GO?"
"What do you mean, honey? Do you mean, where does his body go?"
"Well, as you know we put his body into the ocean in a spot that he really loved. But that wasn't Grandpa. It was just his body."
(I'm not sure when it will be appropriate to explain cremation or ashes to them, but I am fairly confident that it will be quite a while before we have that talk. They don't need exposure to the graphic part of death right now, they have plenty of time for that later. I believe that if my sons learned about the act of cremation today, it could be upsetting to them - this idea of their grandfather's body burning into small papery fragments.)
"...and then he turned into a FISH!!!" shouted the smallest son.
"Someday I am going to turn into a SHARK!" sang out the older one.
"I don't want to be a fish or a shark when I die," mused the little brother. "I don't want to be in the water."
"Don't worry honey," I responded, "You will have plenty of time to figure out what you want to do about that some day."
"What is Mima going to do?" the older boy asked.
"What do you mean?"
"Will your mother go into the ocean when she dies too, mommy? Like your daddy did?"
"No honey, your Mima does not want to be put in the ocean. I think she prefers being buried in the earth under a beautiful green tree somewhere."
"Oh!!!" cried the little one. "I like that! I want to be part of a tree someday!!! I want to be with my Mima under a tree!"
"That's nice, honey. I'm sure your Mima would love to be near you."
At this point their conversation trailed off and veered toward how fast a Hot Wheels car could make it from the top of the driveway to the front of the garage, and whether it would go faster or slower than an orange.
I was left to my thoughts as I weeded the side of the garage next to where they were chatting, remembering the day nearly two years ago when we scattered my father's ashes at sea. Sunny and bright with blue skies and an unbroken horizon, my family had huddled together against the searing chill of loss on my brother's boat and headed for open water.
With every cresting wave my heart lurched and I yelped, holding onto my mother and sister and burying my head in their shoulders. I have always loved the ocean but on that day it frightened me, so vast and unknown... soon to be the final resting place of the man who once awkwardly put his arm around me when I was sobbing over a broken heart and told me, "Honey I know it doesn't seem like it now but I think you've dodged a bullet. He wasn't good enough for you."
Once we'd approximated the spot where my father had requested to have his ashes scattered, far off the coast from an area where he'd once loved to jog and watch the sunset, my brother stopped the boat and we rocked with the waves. All told there were 10 of us out there in the midst of that vast pale blue, hearts brimming in unison yet each interpreting the day according to our own unique memories with and of him.
We sang hymns and held hands and wept. We prayed.
Then, when we could no longer postpone the inevitable someone opened the cannister that contained his ashes. One thing that surprised me, was that the ashes were actually held together within a plastic bag. The same way one might store cornmeal scooped liberally from a bulk foods bin. Someone, I don't remember who, opened the top of the bag and asked who wanted to go first.
The weird thing is, I *think* I went first but I can't remember! Perhaps my mother went first, and then me. We each scattered a small portion of his ashes off the side of the boat and watched them spiral in angelic loops toward the ocean floor. The water was so clear, we could actually see them descend quite a long way.
What I do recall is that I was the first person on the boat to thrust my hand actually inside of the plastic bag to grasp my father's ashes in my own hand before I scattered them so that ~ just one more time ~ I could actually make physical contact with him. That silent man of warm bear hugs who held my hand as I crossed the street a million times throughout my childhood. I wanted to touch the reality of his death, by touching the last evidence of his physical life.
The ashes felt soft but also grainy. A bit like my dad, I suppose.
I will never forget the way his ashes lifted off the palm of my hand and rippled to the bottom of the sea. They looked so calm and peaceful, so angelic, like a swarm of tiny sparkling fish heading to an magical underwater kingdom. It was enough to convince me right then and there that this was the way that I too would choose to be buried one day. Under the hot sun on a beautiful summer day, off the coast of the land I love so well.
Later that evening I showed my husband photos from the burial at sea, which he missed in order to care for our three small children who were much too squirmy to come on the boat. As I showed him the photos of the ashes spiraling through the waves, our oldest son (just turned four) popped his head up in front of the computer screen and asked, "Is that my grandpa?"
"Yes, honey," we replied.
"He looks like a fish! Is he a fish?"
"In a way," my husband replied. "Grandpa is in the ocean with the fish now, and he is at peace. He is part of the cycle of life."
Wednesday, February 16, 2011
This evening at dinnertime I overheard my sons participating in a conversation that was far more wise and poignant than people generally believe small children are capable of having.
They were seated in our new kitchen with their sister at the small table they love, their three tiny chairs pulled up to its sides.
I've been on my own for most of the week with them, as my poor husband has worked valiantly to wrap up our move from the old house and work two jobs at the same time.
Which is my shorthand for letting you know that I am really exhausted at the end of every day and by the time I get dinner on the table for them I am more than happy to sink into the couch in the next room and rest my eyes while they chat.
But I've jumped ahead. Here is the setup:
All three children had been ravenous, and unfortunately I lagged in getting them fed. I kept saying, "Mommy just needs to unpack ONE more box so the house will be nice when Daddy gets home..." which means that from 5pm until 6pm they were waiting patiently while I continued to get us settled into the new house. At some point I knew I had overextended their limit and began to get busy in the kitchen, but it was too late... the collective meltdown had already commenced.
Each of my kids fall apart in different ways when they are tired or hungry. My baby girl gets very clingy and throws herself on my legs or feet, rubbing her head against me and acting generally overwrought. The younger boy begins to ask the same question over and over again, repeating himself and completely ignoring my answers (E.g. "Can I have milk?" / "You may have some with dinner." / "Can I have milk?" / "I've just told you, at dinnertime." / "Can I have milk?" / etc.etc.etc.
Our eldest son is more sensitive and he tends to get dramatic and emotional when breaking down. "WHAT????!!! DINNER ISN'T READY YET???? ARE YOU KIDDING ME??? OH, COME ON, MOM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"
This evening he went a little too far with me in his tirade about my lack of promptness with the meal and so I quietly told him that he could be excused from the table until he could act in a kinder manner to his mother. He really lost it then, and started to wail and scream ~ stomping around the house yelling, "MY MOMMY IS MEAN AND I AM HUNGRY!!!!"
When dinner was finally on the table I invited him to join his brother and sister. He did so, grumbling all the way. After making sure they had everything they needed (finely cut up chicken, Brussels sprouts, rice, milk... more milk, more chicken, more Brussels sprouts, more rice) I retired to the next room ~ four feet away from their table ~ to rest my aching back and decompress. I was in the middle of stretching my arms over my head and wondering what time my husband would be home this evening when I heard my son say "Mommy".
"What?" I asked.
"NO mommy," said my little son... "We weren't talking to you."
After a brief pause they renewed their conversation.
"Why are you so mean to mommy?"
"I'm not mean."
"Well you are very fussy sometimes."
"It's just that she isn't paying attention to me."
"Well she isn't going to pay attention to you if you are yelling and screaming." (This is my little one talking! The three year old!)
"I don't know how to get her attention."
"If you want our mommy's attention you need to speak to her in a quiet and calm voice. Then she will listen to you."
"I don't know if that will work."
"She will listen to you if you speak in a quiet voice and say, 'Mommy I would like your attention please'."
"What if she doesn't pay attention?"
"She will. You should also give her a hug and a kiss."
"I don't want to give her a hug and a kiss."
"You should give her a hug and a kiss and ask her in a quiet voice to pay attention to you. Then she will listen."
"OK, I will try."
(Meanwhile I, who have overheard the entire exchange, am waiting to shower my elder son with kindness just for making the effort.)
In a very tiny voice: "Will you please pay attention to me?"
"What a nice question honey. Will you be speaking with kindness to us this evening?"
"I would love to pay attention to you. Why don't you finish your supper and then we can have a nice conversation."
(He vanished back into the kitchen with his brother and sister.)
"SHE SAID YES! SHE SAID SHE WOULD PAY ATTENTION TO ME!!!"
"That is great! Did you give her a hug and a kiss?"
"No.... but she still said she would pay attention to me!"
"Good job, brother."
They then returned to the business of inhaling their dinner. I sat on the couch with tears in my eyes marveling at how what seems like a lousy moment can turn into an amazing moment just when one least expects it. I am always surprised and amazed when my sons turn from sworn enemies to best friends, but this took the surprise further. The boys were actually connecting with and learning from each other, with the elder boy actively listening to the advice and perspective of the little one.
So this then is the #60092th reason why I love being a mother more than anything else in the world. Just when you think you've failed and your tantrum throwing children will someday be discussing with their therapists how long you made them wait to eat dinner while you unpacked boxes, they turn around and surprise you by showing maturity and emotional savvy far beyond their years.
I am so proud of you, little guys. You inspire me to be a better mother ~ I promise to get dinner on the table early tomorrow!